Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock

Murder in Midwinter by Fleur Hitchcock - Review for Primary Teachers

This is a brilliant, fast-paced, hard-hitting, edge-of-your-seat crime novel for children aged 9+.


Sitting on the top deck of a bus days before Christmas, Maya accidentally photographs a couple arguing in the middle of a crowded Regent Street. They see her. Maya is convinced she has seen one of them pull a gun and goes to the police. They send her away. Then a body turns up. Now she seems to be a vital witness to a crime and is placed in a witness protection scheme for her own safety and sent  to rural Wales. She resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery. Then the snow comes and no one can get out but....what if someone can still get in?

This a gripping story, full of drama, mystery and excitement that will capture the imagination of any young reader.


The story is told in the first person by Maya, who is sharp, witty, strong and brave. Her anxieties, fears and thoughts come through clearly. Her relationship with her cousin Ollie is an interesting one to explore and investigate as the story progresses. His views of her change and as such provide opportunities for pupils to make 'comparisons within ... books'. Children will need to infer how and why his views change and this could be achieved through activities such as diary writing and hot-seating. Primary school children could be introduced to the concept of the 'hero's character arc' through the study of Maya. This would then allow them to make links with other stories/films with which they are familiar.

Other characters in the story worthy of study are Auntie V, Gethin (Ollie's friend) and Peter Romero.


The story begins in bustling streets of London just before Christmas. All of the places can be researched by children. Those who have never been to London would benefit from searching images of Regent Street, particularly at Christmas. The other locations in London could be plotted on a map of London and again an internet search would help children visualize the different scenes.

The location in Wales, Ty Fach, is very different from what Maya is used to. The novel itself provides a lot of detail for children to compare and contrast the different locations, which could be supplemented with additional independent research. 


The book has an AR book level of 4.6 and as such should prove to be well within the capabilities of most in years 5 and 6. Nevertheless, there are a few specific items of vocabulary which will be challenging for many children in upper KS 2. These tend to relate to items at the farm in Wales such as 'eiderdown'. As such, children can practise their skills of working out the meaning of words from the context. 

The style of the writing is exciting and fast paced. Children will be able to explore how sentence length, sentence starters and use of language all contribute to create this effect. (Some of which we often discourage in children's own writing such as beginning repeated sentences with 'I'). Close study of the action passages would develop children's comprehension skills and also provide models for short 'slow' writing activities.


The plot of the story develops quickly from the opening pages. Exciting and dramatic events pile on top of each other. It is episodic but has a number of twists. All the events in the story make the reader (along with Maya) ask the question 'what was it that she saw/photographed?' Why did such an innocent act on her part seemingly put her life in so much danger? 

The book would make a good class novel (either to study or as a 'reading for pleasure' novel), group novel or one for independent reading.

It was the winner of the Leeds Book Award 9-11, 2017 and shortlisted for the Stockport Children's Award 2017.

Advisory Note

There are two instances where the word 'bloody' is used. The first is on page 61. The second is on page 229. Also, it may be worth mentioning that the scenes in chapter 24 do involve a great deal of gunfire.

Publisher: Nosy Crow
First Published: Oct 2016
ISBN: 978-0-85763-638-6

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